From Mayor Kate Snyder, Portland, Maine <[email protected]>
Subject State of Emergency, Mask Mandate - Council Vote on 1/3
Date December 22, 2021 12:43 PM
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On 1/3 the City Council will consider instituting a Mask Mandate, and whether to continue use of State of Emergency for Remote Meetings

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December 22, 2021

Dear Portlanders,

On Monday evening, the City Council decided (6-3) to postpone an action to repeal the State of Emergency (SOE) which has been in place since the summer to allow for all - and only - remote meetings by the City Council, Council Committees, Boards & Commissions.

The use of the local SEO has meant that rather than use the Remote Meeting Policy (adopted after the last Legislative Session) to determine meeting-by-meeting whether to be in person, use a hybrid option (some in person and some remote for those who opt for Zoom), or to be all remote - we have only been allowed to meet fully remotely.

After requests to be back in person for the Inaugural Meeting on December 6th, the Interim City Manager issued a memo to the Council (on November 12th). In that memo, she acknowledged the requests for in-person meetings to resume, and spelled out a pathway forward to achieve that outcome.
In order to even have the option to meet in person, or in a hybrid format, we cannot have a SOE governing all meetings, and requiring that they all be remote.
Therefore, as spelled out in that memo, a motion to repeal the SOE was offered on 12/20 so that in person meetings could once again be possible.

Please keep in mind - when the requests for an in person Inauguration were made - and the memo from Management in response - we hadn't even heard of omicron!
So - it's understandable there's lots of confusion - and lots of emotion.

Put simply: If Portland keeps the SOE with the current remote meeting language, we are unable to meet in person.
If we repeal the SOE - we can still meet remotely!
However, we will make a determination meeting-by-meeting, using our Remote Meeting Policy for guidance.

By repealing the SOE we give ourselves the ability to be responsive to the changing landscape.

The following example is illustrative:
In October, the Council considered a mask mandate. (It did not pass, but a the city's masking and vaccination communications campaign was made even more robust.)
In November, we were being urged to get back in person for December meetings.
In December, we are once again considering a mask mandate.

What this tells me is that - at this point with Covid-19 and its variants - the days and weeks bring meaningful change - and we are now in a place where we can be well served by making decisions about meetings on a case by case basis.

All this said - I know there is disagreement on the issue. And - I'm OK with that. (That's what representative democracy is built on!) I am inclined to repeal the SOE - which again - only contains language governing remote meetings - in order to rely on our Remote Meeting Policy.
The issue of Hazard Pay is a whole other matter; it is triggered on January 1 in the event a SOE exists at the local or state level - no matter what is in the SOE.

So - where are we now?
Like I said, two days ago the Council voted to postpone Repeal of the SOE to 1/3/22.
And - there is intention to bring forward a Mask Mandate at that time.
The 1/3 agenda will be posted on 12/29/21.

I hope this helps clarify where we stand at this time.

It has been a long ~21 months. And, I think everyone is carrying significant stress.
More than ever, I think it's so important to be kind with one another. Gentle, even. Forgiving, for sure.

I send my best wishes to you all for the holidays. I also send my thanks - to our community, to my elected colleagues, and to City and School staff.

Kate Snyder

PS - As many of you know, I don't rely on social media for much. I use email to connect directly with you - and I invite your reply. I also use a Monthly Zoom meeting (with no agenda) to make myself available to talk about anything and everything. Please feel free to forward this email. For anyone not currently on my distribution, I'm happy to add you - just send me an email making that request.

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Mayor Kate Snyder . 389 Congress St . Portland, ME 04101-3566 . USA

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